TERRY BRANSTAD, the governor of Iowa, is sitting on a vault full of political capital, thanks to his early, ardent support of Donald Trump. Before he moves to Beijing as ambassador to China in the spring he seems to be wasting no time spending it. The governor and the Republican legislature he helped elect have moved rapidly in recent weeks to enact policies that are moving the once reliably moderate state in a sharply conservative direction.

The longest-serving governor in American history, Mr Branstad oversaw a near-total Republican victory in his state in 2016. Besides embracing Mr Trump’s presidential candidacy, he poured his energy into supporting Republican candidates for the state Senate. Mr Trump won Iowa handily; down-ballot Republican candidates also prevailed. Republicans in the state now hold both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in two decades, allowing them to enact an agenda with virtually no opposition.

Last month, they flexed their new muscle by introducing perhaps the most sweeping public policy change in recent memory: a top-to-bottom rewrite of the law governing collective bargaining for public-sector workers. That was just the start: lawmakers are now moving fast on measures to overrule local minimum wage ordinances, ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, cut state funding for Planned Parenthood and curtail benefits for workers injured on the job. Few of those measures came up on the campaign trail. All could be enacted before Mr Branstad leaves office.

The bargaining bill, which was the first to hit Mr Branstad’s desk, may come to be seen as the defining act of the session. It sharply limits bargaining by public employees, in most cases limiting contract negotiations only to base wages. Workers will no longer be allowed to negotiate over health-care benefits, staff reductions, evaluation procedures and other benefits and work conditions that have been mandatory bargaining items since the 1970s.

The bill, known as House File 291, also undermines unions’ organisational and political clout by prohibiting them from collecting dues and political contributions from members’ paychecks and requiring them to hold recertification votes with every new contract. Some 184,000 state and local employees—including teachers, police, firefighters and corrections officers—are affected.

The governor and legislative Republicans contend that the bill gives state and local governments more financial flexibility, allows schools to reward good teachers and remove bad ones. They argue it brings public sector benefits in line with those found in the private sector and could perhaps hold down taxes. The employees it affects disagree: when the bill was announced, teachers marched on the Capitol; other workers swarmed legislators’ town-hall meetings. Democrats, meanwhile, filed dozens of amendments to kill or curtail the bill, and kept the Senate in session overnight debating them. The legislation sailed through the statehouse and into law on February 17th.

Republicans have been less vocal about another of the bill’s undeniable effects: it will slash the political power of unions that for decades have been the biggest donors and most important organisers for the Iowa Democratic Party.

Despite this, Democratic party officials believe—or hope—that the effects of House File 291 will spark new grassroots political activism in the coming campaign season. Unions, which say they will maintain much of their financial clout at least through 2018, are betting that the new law will keep their members angry and politically engaged until election day. Democrats even hope the bargaining changes might bring back voters who have drifted to the Republican Party in recent elections.